Huge Wins for Public Health! Oregon Lawmakers Act to Keep Toxic Chemicals Out of Cosmetics and Kids’ Products

In a resounding victory for the health and well-being of Oregonians, Oregon Environmental Council and coalition partners successfully advocated for the passage of two crucial environmental health bills in the 2023 legislative session. 

  • Despite facing staunch opposition from the chemical industry, our coalition’s unwavering commitment and tenacity paid off, as we secured bipartisan support for the groundbreaking Toxic Free Cosmetics Act (SB 546). This landmark legislation will change how personal care products are sold in our state and will significantly boost consumer safety. 
  • Additionally, the passage of the Toxic Free Kids Modernization Act (HB 3043) will keep Oregon on the leading edge of health protections for kids by ensuring our agency keeps up with scientific developments.

Everyday consumer products, including cosmetics, personal care items, and children’s toys, are often assumed to be safe. However, many of these products contain hazardous chemicals like formaldehyde, lead, and arsenic, as confirmed by laboratory tests conducted by the Washington Department of Ecology in 2022

Despite mounting evidence of the risks and exposure, manufacturers have largely been reluctant to remove these harmful chemicals from their products and industry association lobbyists have opposed state policy protections at every turn. But yet, amid the turmoil of the 2023 legislative session, OEC remained successful in passing many of our Toxic-free priorities!

Against the odds

Throughout the 2023 Legislative Session, these bills faced big hurdles, including dozens of compromise requests (some of which were given) from the manufacturing industry and an unrelated, but unprecedented walkout, that forced the Oregon Senate to a standstill for six weeks. Yet OEC and our coalition partners and legislative champions remained steadfast and tenacious throughout the 2023 legislative session and achieved significant victories for toxic-free priorities. 

We recognize the hard work and commitment of our partners at Beyond Toxics, Oregon Consumer Justice, Oregon Nurses Association, Environment Oregon, Physicians for Responsibility, Oregon Conservation Network, Children’s Agenda, and our legislative champions, Senator Janeen Sollman, Senator Deb Patterson, and Representative Courtney Neron.

We firmly believe that engaging in genuine negotiations, building strong relationships, and being credible advocates for scientific evidence lead to success. 

Here’s what we achieved, together:

New Landmark Legislation for Oregon: Toxic Free Cosmetics Act 

Senate Bill 546 will reduce exposure to toxic chemicals for Oregon consumers in two ways:

  1. Manufacturers will be required to publicly disclose all chemical ingredients on the company’s product webpage as an accessible way for consumers to make educated purchasing decisions.
  2. The worst carcinogens found in products today – such as formaldehyde and formaldehyde releasers – will be prohibited and fully phased out of consumer products by 2027.

This legislation is particularly important as it addresses the disproportionate health risks faced by women of color, who often face higher exposure to toxic chemicals in personal care products. By taking action to remove these harmful substances from cosmetics, we are working towards a more equitable and safer future for all Oregonians.

Updates to Existing Legislation: Toxic Free Kids Modernization Act

Three kids playing in a sandbox

Photo courtesy of Fabian Centeno

House Bill 3043 builds on the success of Oregon’s groundbreaking 2015 Toxic Free Kids Act by strengthening protections for children’s health and streamlining business reporting requirements. The updated law will:

  1. Give OHA the authority to regulate classes of chemicals without mandating it. It’s in everyone’s mutual interest to ensure safer alternatives are recognized, and that we don’t replace one bad chemical with another toxin.  
  2. Remove the limit on the number of chemicals that can be regulated to ensure we are in alignment with Washington, as Oregon and Washington share lab and enforcement capabilities. 
  3. Require brand names and models to be reported so that consumers can make more educated buying choices regarding chemical exposure.  
  4. Make it easier for manufacturers to comply with regional standards by streamlining reporting dates to fit the state of WA. 

Other Toxic-Free Wins

This spring, Oregon also took action to tackle toxic plastic. On Monday, May 8, Governor Tina Kotek signed two bills into law, positioning Oregon as a national leader in reducing plastic pollution. 

  • Senate Bill 543 will phase out polystyrene foam foodware, packing peanuts, and coolers and prohibit the use of PFAS (the toxic substances nicknamed “forever chemicals” that harm our immune systems and liver and kidney functioning), in food packaging starting January 1, 2025.
  • Senate Bill 545 makes it easier for restaurants to provide reusable container options, no later than June 30, 2024. 

Phasing out PFAS in foodware is a common-sense way to protect the health of Oregonians. We commend lawmakers for taking action.

Up Next: Continuing to Protect Oregonians

As we celebrate these legislative victories, our work is far from over. We will continue collaborating with the Oregon Health Authority (OHA) and lawmakers to ensure the implementation of solid rules and regulations that prioritize public health. Our efforts aim to protect the health and well-being of our neighbors, friends, and communities across the state. By advocating for the removal of toxic chemicals from consumer products, we are actively working towards a healthier environment for everyone.

OEC’s work to advance public health by protecting kids and consumers from toxic chemicals is made possible by individual supporters across the state. Make a difference and become a member of OEC today.  

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